It’s easy to see why desertion in time of war merits the ultimate penalty.
Bowe Bergdahl has been charged with “desertion” and “misbehavior before the enemy.” The first charge can lead to five years in military prison, the second to life.
It should be noted that the Obama administration, for whatever reason, chose a charge that does not carry the risk of the death penalty. According to Article 85 of the UCMJ, desertion in “time of war” is a capital crime. Now if Bergdahl deserted, which seems indisputable at this point, he certainly did so in a time of war. Simple justice would dictate that he face the ultimate penalty.
Does the Bible shed any light on the Bowe Bergdahl situation? I would suggest that it does.
One of the more famous stories in the Bible is the story of David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba, who was married to one of his commanding officers, a man by the name of Uriah. David attempted to conceal his sexual misconduct and Bathsheba’s pregnancy by enticing Uriah to sleep with his wife while Uriah was home on leave. When that failed, David resorted to homicide to cover his tracks.
He instructed Joab, in a letter carried to the battle lines by Uriah himself, to “set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down and die” (2 Samuel 11:15).
The plan worked, or so it seemed. Uriah was killed, and David immediately took Bathsheba as his wife and brought her into his palace, leading the people to think he was an oh-so-caring commander-in-chief, showing compassion to the widow of a fallen warrior.
Yet God had seen everything, and when the time was right, he sent Nathan the prophet to David with a story about a rich man who owned many flocks and herds and a poor man who owned just one little ewe lamb who was like a daughter to him. The rich man, in Nathan’s story, took the ewe lamb from the poor man to feed a guest rather than taking a lamb of his own.
David was enraged - “his anger was greatly kindled,” says the Bible - and he pronounced judgment. “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die” (2 Samuel 12:5).
At this point, Nathan pointed a long bony finger in David’s face and said “You are the man!” David was found guilty of murder by God himself. “You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword” (2 Samuel 12:9), said God through his prophet.
David had exposed a trusted and faithful soldier to the lethal force of the enemy to cover his own immorality, and the proper penalty, in words that came from David’s own mouth, was death.
When Bergdahl went missing, no one knew why. Suspecting the possibility that he had been taken captive, his comrades spent days searching for him, placing themselves repeatedly in harm’s way in an effort to save his life from the enemy.
In June of 2014 Time magazine published a feature piece on the six soldiers who died during that search for Bowe Bergdahl. These were men who were exposed to lethal risk by Bergdahl’s crime of desertion in a time of war.
❖ Staff Sergeant Clayton Bowen, 29, of San Antonio, Texas, and Private 1st Class Morris Walker, 23, of Chapel Hill, N.C., who were killed by a roadside bomb;
❖ Staff Sergeant Kurt Curtiss, 27, of Murray, Utah, who died of wounds suffered when he was shot;
❖ 2nd Lieutenant Darryn Andrews, 34, of Dallas, Texas, who died when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an improvised explosive device and a rocket-propelled grenade;
❖ Staff Sergeant Michael Murphrey, 25, of Snyder, Texas, who died after being wounded by an IED;
❖ and Private 1st Class Matthew Martinek, 20, of DeKalb, Ill., who died of wounds suffered when Taliban forces attacked his vehicle with an improvised explosive device, a rocket-propelled grenade and small-arms fire.
All six of these men were exposed to deadly violence by Bergdahl’s immorality and cowardice. It’s easy to see why desertion in time of war merits the ultimate penalty.
From the standpoint of biblical justice, Bowe Bergdahl needs to answer for these six lives.
David came to the place where he confessed his crime and accepted responsibility for it. Neither we nor the families of the slain have heard any such words from Bergdahl.
The state, we are told in Scripture, does not “bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). Contrition and confession won’t get Bergdahl off that hook, but it certainly would be the place for him to start.